Here at The Josh Givens Blog, we think a lot about the future of social media and the Church and how the Church will fit into the digital space. Oh, who am I kidding? There is no “we.” It’s just me. Sorry for the let down. If half my audience walks away right now, I won’t blame you.
Speaking of audiences, your church has one too. Actually they have several. Remember that one time I mentioned that there are similarities between churches and brands? I even discussed it on a recent episode of Rescuing Churches. Well, every brand has an audience — a specific niche demographic of customers to whom they cater their product. Starbucks has cornered the market on coffee lovers. Nike dominates the athletic tennis shoe world. And Chick-fil-A has won the hearts of chicken sandwich connoisseurs everywhere. Of course, when it comes to communications, your church is trying to reach standard audiences like 1) regular attendees 2) guests and visitors 3) and, hopefully, the surrounding community. There’s a lot of work that goes into making sure those people can access and receive the information they need on a regular basis, that they feel included in what’s happening, and are encouraged to get involved.
But there’s a fourth category that requires even more work and attention: Your digital audience. These are the people following your Facebook and Instagram Pages, your website, and maybe your sermon audio podcast if you happen to have one of those thingamajigs. Whatever your digital and social media platforms are, each one has an audience. And keep in mind that your digital audience could be, and often is, made up of some random amalgamation of those three standard audiences I mentioned a moment ago.
One of the lines I hear most often from pastors who don’t see a need for implementing social media at their church is, “Digital communication and relationships are just two-dimensional [and therefore aren’t as important.] I shouldn’t waste my time on that.”
Here's an actual photo of me responding to the last pastor who said that:
Trust me, I get it. I really do. But, as social media has evolved over the years, transforming from a place where folks were connecting with friends to a platform where companies and organizations can broadcast messages to the masses and interact with their audiences, we can no longer afford to ignore the reality of the human experiences that people are enjoying in these spaces. There is a reason, after all, that we refer to it as social media. It’s designed to be interactive and engaging. And therein lies the crux of what you should care about as a Church Communicator and especially as a pastor: engagement.
The Internet is a noisy and chaotic world. And smack-dab in the middle of that world is a highway called social media. Your platform doesn’t need to be a billboard that people whiz by at breakneck speed without a second thought. It should be a neighborhood café with couches, aesthetic lighting, and soothing jazz music; a place where folks want to hang out with their friends, spark dialogue, encourage each other, and return often. Ok, maybe the jazz music was a bit much, but you get the point. The type of content that you post to your Page is critical in creating this sort of atmosphere and fostering that kind of interactivity.
Social media engagement is more than just responding to individual comments and DMs. It’s more than posting graphics that elicit likes, shares, and comments. Yes, that’s all important. But at the core, engagement is the ongoing process of creating a lifelong relationship with your church’s digital audience; a relationship that makes them feel like they are special because they belong to a unique community — your community. As the pastor, you want them to be regularly encouraged, inspired, and uplifted, even when they're not present in your church's physical building. You want them interacting with one another, even when they're not on campus. Here are a few simple, practical ways that you can do that via your social media platform:
Create and post graphics that ask a question.
Nothing elicits interactivity more than a good, well-worded question. Maybe that’s my journalistic experience speaking, but I stand by it nonetheless. Over the course of my years as a church Communications Director, here are a few questions I’ve utilized on social media graphics: What are you reading right now? What was the last show you binge-watched? Who has the best burger in your town? Describe your Sunday morning routine using only emojis. What was your favorite part of today’s message? Who are you inviting to church this weekend? How can we pray for you today? What did you read from the Bible this week?
When people leave comments with their answers, be sure that you respond to a few of them creatively. Feel free to interject some clean humor when appropriate.
Post photos and/or videos that tell engaging and inspiring stories.
People love to be encouraged and inspired. If you can interview someone in your church who has an awesome testimony or a killer story about how they connected with your local fellowship, and then share it either in high quality video/audio or photo/text format on your Facebook or Instagram platform, you’ve got a great engagement post for your Page. Also, you can’t go wrong by posting pictures of happy, smiling people enjoying your worship services. This sends an unmistakable message to your audience and potential visitors about the environment and ambience of your church.
Share a post from an affiliated page.
Does one of your missionaries have their own Facebook Page? Another organization that your church supports? An occasional share of that Page’s content can serve to generate conversation and get some buzz going on your own Page. Don’t always feel like it has to be your own original material.
In between all of this, be sure to throw some daily posts into the mix. This could be anything from Scripture graphics from the YouVersion Bible App to short video clips from your pastor’s most recent sermon. If your church is present on more than one social media platform and you’re the sole administrator running everything, post most consistently and regularly to the platform where the majority of your audience and potential visitors reside. That is where you will find and create engagement. It’s not impossible, but it will take a little creativity, time, and some sustained effort. The payoff, however, will be well worth it.
What are your ideas for engagement? What has worked for your church social media platforms? Sound off in the comment thread!